Bulletin of Volcanology

, Volume 70, Issue 4, pp 475–493

Katla volcano, Iceland: magma composition, dynamics and eruption frequency as recorded by Holocene tephra layers


    • Laboratoire Magmas et VolcansUniversité Blaise Pascal and CNRS
    • Institute of Earth SciencesUniversity of Iceland
  • Olgeir Sigmarsson
    • Laboratoire Magmas et VolcansUniversité Blaise Pascal and CNRS
    • Institute of Earth SciencesUniversity of Iceland
  • Gudrun Larsen
    • Institute of Earth SciencesUniversity of Iceland
  • Thor Thordarson
    • Institute of Earth SciencesUniversity of Iceland
    • School of GeoScienceUniversity of Edinburgh, Grant Institute
Research Article

DOI: 10.1007/s00445-007-0150-5

Cite this article as:
Óladóttir, B.A., Sigmarsson, O., Larsen, G. et al. Bull Volcanol (2008) 70: 475. doi:10.1007/s00445-007-0150-5


The Katla volcano in Iceland is characterized by subglacial explosive eruptions of Fe–Ti basalt composition. Although the nature and products of historical Katla eruptions (i.e. over the last 1,100 years) at the volcano is well-documented, the long term evolution of Katla’s volcanic activity and magma production is less well known. A study of the tephra stratigraphy from a composite soil section to the east of the volcano has been undertaken with emphasis on the prehistoric deposits. The section records ∼8,400 years of explosive activity at Katla volcano and includes 208 tephra layers of which 126 samples were analysed for major-element composition. The age of individual Katla layers was calculated using soil accumulation rates (SAR) derived from soil thicknesses between 14C-dated marker tephra layers. Temporal variations in major-element compositions of the basaltic tephra divide the ∼8,400-year record into eight intervals with durations of 510–1,750 years. Concentrations of incompatible elements (e.g. K2O) in individual intervals reveal changes that are characterized as constant, irregular, and increasing. These variations in incompatible elements correlate with changes in other major-element concentrations and suggest that the magmatic evolution of the basalts beneath Katla is primarily controlled by fractional crystallisation. In addition, binary mixing between a basaltic component and a silicic melt is inferred for several tephra layers of intermediate composition. Small to moderate eruptions of silicic tephra (SILK) occur throughout the Holocene. However, these events do not appear to exhibit strong influence on the magmatic evolution of the basalts. Nevertheless, peaks in the frequency of basaltic and silicic eruptions are contemporaneous. The observed pattern of change in tephra composition within individual time intervals suggests different conditions in the plumbing system beneath Katla volcano. At present, the cause of change of the magma plumbing system is not clear, but might be related to eruptions of eight known Holocene lavas around the volcano. Two cycles are observed throughout the Holocene, each involving three stages of plumbing system evolution. A cycle begins with an interval characterized by simple plumbing system, as indicated by uniform major element compositions. This is followed by an interval of sill and dyke system, as depicted by irregular temporal variations in major element compositions. This stage eventually leads to a formation of a magma chamber, represented by an interval with increasing concentrations of incompatible elements with time. The eruption frequency within the cycle increases from the stage of a simple plumbing system to the sill and dyke complex stage and then drops again during magma chamber stage. In accordance with this model, Katla volcano is at present in the first interval (i.e. simple plumbing system) of the third cycle because the activity in historical time has been characterized by uniform magma composition and relatively low eruption frequency.


TephraMajor-elementsMagma plumbing systemSubglacial eruptionsBasaltIcelandKatla volcano

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© Springer-Verlag 2007